It seems as if it was only a matter of time before Cart-Driver — the luxuriant pizza and oyster joint that has long inhabited a quaint shipping container in RiNo — spread its wings. Last month, owner Andrew Birkholz opened a second location in LoHi. Taking over the former Z Cuisine, the new restaurant continues with the same format established at the first — counter service, a casual atmosphere and multiple daily happy hours — and transplants it into a much larger, much more aesthetically pleasing space. While the original certainly has its charms, the new room makes calculated use of the much larger area — overlaying a great deal of Z’s original skeleton with a sleek open kitchen drenched in marble and art curated by local favorite Mark Sink. In lesser hands the blend could come across hodgepodge, but not so here. The mixture nicely reflects much of what Cart-Driver is about — intentionally presenting the exquisite in a remarkably nonchalant fashion.
The menu is almost identical at both locations, at least for the time being. Chef Brian Wilson — a graduate of Rioja, Brazen, Telegraph, Beast + Bottle, Coperta and the original Cart-Driver — does not want to shy away from what made the original so great. “We hang our hat on our pizza,” said the chef. He hopes to continue to establish relationships with local purveyors and increasingly apply a locavore mentality to the new spot, but diners shouldn’t expect any kind of dramatic change to come too quickly. The tremendous Earthstone oven — the hearth from which all the pizzas emerge — took nearly two weeks to heat up and calibrate. Now the pies are expertly fired, only taking about 90 seconds to reach the appropriate level of crisp.
The few new items that do grace the menu are exquisite. The mortadella pizza ($17) comes loaded with thick slabs of the cured meat and is supplemented with liberal portions of pistachios and arugula. Much of the batched cocktail list remains the same and the prosecco still flows from the tap — but the expanded bar area allows for a much greater scope for new and custom cocktails. The absolutely essential clam pizza ($19) — one of the city’s best pies — with pancetta, roasted garlic and panna also remains present.
The space — originally constructed in 1890 — fits 80 inside and 16 on the small patio. The intricate woodwork — all done by Restoration Union — breathes a good deal of life into the old room. The open kitchen — complete with counter seating — is one of the new location’s biggest delights. Kitchen staff move about gracefully, clearly appreciating the breathing room so noticeably absent at the original.
With such a tried and true concept, Cart-Driver should have no trouble thriving in LoHi. The staff seems to be nicely adjusting to the few growing pains, with some degree of table service being introduced for patrons with open tabs. Cart-Driver’s expansion bodes well for the neighborhood, the new location acting as a natural extension of a concept that deserves as much scope as it can get.
Cart-Driver is located at 2239 West 30th Ave, Denver. It is open every day from 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.